Ten years ago, I began seeing someone who had a small child from a previous relationship. It was unchartered ground for both of us because I had little experience with children, and she had none with lesbianism. We muddled along though, and it certainly was a learning curve – in fact, the person who taught me the most was Steffi, my ex’s little girl.
Anyway, when we broke up I was devastated. Not because she was the love of my life (looking back now, she was far from it) but because by having a child she represented a sort of normality for me, and a hope that society would see us as a sort of quirky (if not slightly dysfunctional) little step-family; and also because she was the only person I’d ever brought home that my mother had actually really liked.
I got through the break up the only way I knew how: I wrote about it. I wrote in long-hand in a stream-of-consciousness style, rarely stopping or crossing anything out; and I did this in a variety of cafes and bars around Glasgow, and occasionally in front of the TV whilst the KISS channel with it’s raunchy R’n’B sounds was pounding away in the background. My favourite songs from that period quickly became ‘Fuck It (I Don’t Want You Back’) and ‘F.U.R.B.’ (Fuck You Right Back’) and I think that speaks volumes for my maturity at that point in my life. At the end of three months, however, I had a lighter heart and a full notepad (not to mention a tentative new love interest); and when I typed up what I’d written (pretty much verbatim) I had a novella that was just shy of 40,000 words. (Now I have never been able to write so ferociously or fluidly since than, nor have I ever again been able to get a whole story out without multiple stops and starts. But neither am I suggesting that I have to be going through an emotional uproar to do so.)
‘Steffi Baby’ is a story about Debs, a young, single mother in her middle twenties who is struggling with an anxiety-related disorder which confines her indoors and often to her bed. It is narrated by her daughter, Steffi, a highly-sensitive and strong-spirited four-year-old, who is blissfully unaware that her mother’s new best friend, Alice, is actually her lover.
This novella is a far cry from autobiography, and although there are parts which were inspired by real life events I preferred to stretch my imagination and write about what could have happened rather than the things which actually took place. It was also never meant as a way of getting back at my ex – and I suppose in a way I am really paying homage to some of the good times we did share. I chose to tell it from Steffi’s point of view because it was too painful (and, frankly, too boring) to tell it from my own; and also because Steffi’s innocence and unrelenting optimism bring humour to what could otherwise have been a rather bleak tale.
Before Xmas, I began redrafting ‘Steffi Baby’ again – I’d previously attempted this back in March but found it was too difficult to finish at that time. This wasn’t because it threw up any unpleasant memories for me – on the contrary, it reminded me of quite a few episodes that made me laugh out loud. I simply struggled with the chronology and the picking apart of an already very tight story.
I’ll admit there have been times when I considered giving up on it completely: that old chestnut ‘no-one reads / publishes novellas anymore’ rattled around in my head; and only yesterday, I was so frustrated with one particularly problematic chapter that I printed out all twenty pages of it before physically cutting and pasting the sentences together; I was also slightly worried that I would be accused of trotting out yet another niche-interest piece of fiction that only lesbians of Scottish nationality would ever read.
I am pleased to report that I am now about ninety-eight percent of the way through the redraft. There was loose talk of me writing a sequel, but I’m not so sure. Antonia thinks I should. We’ll see.
The real Steffi was fourteen this month and I can’t believe where the years have gone. I suppose she will stay forever four years old in my mind. I doubt I will ever cross paths with her again, but wherever she is in this world I wish her and her mother all the very best, and hope that they are happy and well.